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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

At last, America’s political leaders indicate that they now hear the voices and feel the pain of the poor and of the millions of working families slipping out of the middle class.

Congress had previously paid no attention to the ever-widening chasm between the rich and the rest of us, but that inequality has recently emerged as a top political topic in the race for such Republican presidential contenders as Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio. They are publicly lamenting the wealth gap and — by gollies — proposing solutions. Alas, though, the “solution” proposed by each of them is not to provide help for those who’ve been knocked down, but to offer aid to the same corporate elites who’ve been enriching themselves by knocking down the middle class and holding down the poor.

Specifically, their solution is to cut taxes on corporations and the rich, do away with environmental and labor protections and cut or privatize government programs — from Head Start to Social Security — that ordinary people count on. For example, Sen. Rubio proposes to kill the food stamp program (even though the need for it is greater than ever) and redirect that money into what he calls a subsidy for low-wage workers. Does he think we have sucker wrappers around our heads? That’s not a subsidy for workers, but for low-wage employers. Why should taxpayers subsidize the poverty pay of profitable giants such as McDonald’s, rather than making them pay living wages and cover their own labor costs?

I guess we should count it as progress that Republican candidates are at least having to admit that inequality is a problem, but come on — offering the same old failed, anti-government snake oil is an insult to the American people. Jeb Bush shows how vacuous their flim-flammery is by saying that, to address the ever-widening wealth and income gap, he’ll “celebrate success and … cherish free enterprise.” Gosh, what a comfort that’ll be to America’s hard-hit majority.

It may be futile to hope that the GOP’s gaggle of corporate-hugging, right-wing presidential candidates will seriously address the issue of rising inequality in our “Land of Opportunity” — but where are the Democrats?

At present, they’re mostly with Hillary Clinton, who has warned that “extreme inequality has corrupted other societies.” Uh … yes, but what about our society? Clinton says: “We have to have a concerted effort to meet a consensus about how to deal with this.”

Huh? That’s not an answer, much less a solution — it’s a political tap dance around a crucial matter facing America. Why would she dodge a chance to swing away at a down-the-middle, working-class issue that’s right in the wheelhouse of her party’s populist strength? After all, recent polls show huge public support for direct government action to reduce the wealth gap, from raising taxes on the super-rich to raising the minimum wage above the poverty level.

But there is one tiny constituency whose opinion outweighs all others on this issue: The 1 Percenters. Clinton and other top Democrats are weaker than Canadian hot sauce when it comes to embracing the unequivocating populism that ordinary voters want, because only 13 percent of the super-rich think government should take action to redress inequality. These privileged ones tend to blame America’s widening inequities on the very people who’re losing jobs, income and wealth — claiming that such people should simply improve their work ethic and character.

Why would Democrats care what these few supercilious elites think? Well, because meek Democrats like Clinton have become so dependent on rich people’s campaign checks that these Democrats let the 1 percent restrict the party’s policies and message, thus alienating the workaday majority.

When both parties kowtow to money, the people’s needs are ignored, and politics becomes illegitimate.

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Webpage at www.creators.com.

Photo: Occupy Chicago (Ken Fager/Flickr)